“Happy Christmas!” the chipper old woman said, her clear British accent making Charles grimace. She stood in her winter coat and toque next to a donation pot, raising money for some lazy laggard or another too shiftless to work, needing a handout now just like they did every other week, and the damn government and socialists just kept handing it over.
“It’s merry Christmas,” Charles said, brushing past her. Flurries drifted down, settling on his greying mustache and melting instantly.
Inside the sliding doors, he grabbed an abandoned cart and started pushing it through the aisles. The boards denoting each aisle’s contents had red and green garlands stapled around their edges, and he nodded in approval each time he passed one.
He reached the canned food aisle, on the hunt for cranberry sauce. Halfway down the aisle, a woman stood facing off against her child sitting in the cart, mid-tantrum.
“I want it! I want it! Gimme it!” the child was screaming.
What a brat, Charles thought. He stopped to scan through the cans near the end. Not seeing it among the beans and chickpeas, he moved further down, closer to the screaming kid and, in his mind, inconsiderate mother. Another scan through peas, carrots, and corn, but no cranberry sauce.
“Gimme it! Gimme! Pleeeeeeeease!” The child shouted.
“No, Daniel. We light the menorah in a day or two. After that.”
“But I want it!”
“Shush!” the mother’s demand sunk in, and Daniel folded his arms in sulky silence. Charles grunted in relief, then pushed his cart past them.
“Merry Christmas,” he sneered at her, and walked to the end of the aisle.
He turned his cart out to the main thoroughfare, nearly colliding with another, and walked toward the first store worker he saw, a pasty white teenage girl organizing a shelf.
“Excuse me, I need some cranberry sauce,” he said, and waited.
“Um, sure, right this way sir,” she said, rising and wiping her hands on her pants. She led him back to the aisle he had just left, the parent and her brat thankfully having moved on in the intervening time, and pointed to the section previously blocked by the mother’s cart.
“Figures,” Charles said to himself, and reached down to pick up two cans. He pushed his cart toward down the aisle to continue gathering his groceries, leaving the girl to sigh and return to her work.
When he had everything he needed, he walked to the checkout and waited in line. The elderly couple ahead of him took an insufferable time putting the bags back in their cart, the man drawing out his wallet and slowly counting the exact change needed to pay. Finally they finished, thanking the cashier and allowing Charles to be served.
“Hello, how are you,” said the young cashier, a teenage boy with light brown skin whose nametag read “Hara”.
“Fine, how are you?” Charles asked out of required politeness.
“Good, thank you. That will be fifty-six twenty-two,” Hara said. Charles swiped his card and keyed in his PIN, then lifted the bags in to his cart.
“Happy holidays,” Hara said.
“For Christ’s sake, it’s Merry Christmas! We celebrate Christmas here!” Charles snapped, and pushed the cart angrily toward the exit. He left the store, fuming, and tossed his groceries into his car. Leaving the cart in the empty parking spot beside him, he drove home, muttering to himself.
He thundered into his dark little apartment, tossing the grocery bags onto the kitchen floor. He pulled off his shoes and jacket, then put the groceries away, including the pile of packages of pre-cooked turkey. He kept one out, removing the packaging and putting it on a plate to heat in the microwave. While it warmed, he opened one of the cans of cranberry sauce. When the microwave beeped, he removed the plate and spooned some cranberry sauce on top of the turkey. He carried it to the living room and sat, turning on the television to watch while eating his dinner, filled with festive spirit.